TRIGGER WARNING – slavery, sexual violence and threats of physical violence
“In Syria, in Raqqa, we were kept in a hall. The Australian then came there and bought us.” ‘Layla’ is a Yazidi woman who, like thousands others, was kidnapped by Da’esh and sold into sexual slavery. She was bought by Khaled Sharrouf, a Lebanese migrant who used to live in Sydney. Having already been convicted and imprisoned for terrorism offences, Sharrouf flew to Syria on his brother’s passport where he began fighting with Da’esh. His Australian wife, now deceased, and children lived there with him. ‘Layla’ says “the children were holding knives and told us that they were going to kill us. They were calling us infidels. “All Yazidis are infidels,” they said. “All the world must convert to Islam.””
She was one of seven Yazidi women held together in servitude in a house on the outskirts of Raqqa. “We were required to do anything those children asked. We were their servant and slaves. We weren’t allowed to disturb them or rebuke them. That went for the entire family. We had to do anything they wanted.”
Her friend, ‘Nazdar’ says “We couldn’t even cry, they hurt us so much. If we refused anything they demanded of us, they would beat us hard.” A third woman, ‘Ghazala’ said the children had knives and cellphones, “saying that they will take videos while killing us because we follow a different religion. And said that they will make a video while cutting off our heads.”
The sexual violence experienced by Yazidi women is often considered a deeply shameful thing, and many of the survivors have trouble talking about it. But ‘Ghazala’ says “they told two of us to marry him. And he was taking them to a lonely, private room and spending two or three hours with them. Sometimes he was taking one of them late at night and bringing her back in the morning.”
Layla hoped that the Australian Government would help her find justice for what Khaled Sharrouf and his Australian comrades have done to her and her friends. She said ”if those terrorists are ever caught, they must make sure that they will never escape. I want them to punish those terrorists…”
When sexual violence is perpetrated as part of an armed conflict, it is a war crime. When that violence is widespread, systemic and directed at the civilian population, it is a crime against humanity. If it used to destroy, in whole or in part, a particular ethnic, racial or religious group, it is genocide. These are crimes under international law; under the Geneva Conventions, the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. They are crimes under Australian law, having been ratified through the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions Act and the Rome Statute Act.
Sex trafficking is illegal under Australian law too. The laws have universal jurisdiction, meaning they can be applied even when neither the victim or perpetrator is Australian and the crimes need not have occurred in Australia. Slavery and sexual servitude can also be war crimes and crimes against humanity.
These are heinous crimes, given a special place in the law. They are the reason why the International Criminal Court was established, to end impunity for such violence. Under the principal of complementarity of that court, countries that are willing and able to investigate and prosecute these crimes, are obliged to do so. It is for this reason that the court usually deals with crimes committed in developing countries, places that the justice system and/or political situation do not have the capability to pursue justice.
In Australia, the Australian Federal Police are the responsible investigative authority. Presumably, in cases with such significant overlap of security concerns, investigations would be undertaken with the assistance of other security and intelligence agencies. But last month, rather that issue an arrest warrant for Khaled Sharrouf, the Australian Government simply revoked his citizenship. Now, he is of no greater concern to the government than any of the thousands of other foreign fighters committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Syria and Iraq. The prospects of Layla and her friends receiving the justice they seek are now virtually nil.
How then, can this policy of revoking citizenship truly be about justice? Is it just another way for men to decide what women should feel about the ill that has been done to them? For men to decide what security is, what safety is, and what crimes matter the most? How is this fair for those women? How then, is it fair for any women?
If you would like to call on the Australian Government to investigate and prosecute Australians who have perpetrated sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraq and Syria, please go to prosecutedontperpetrate.com to find out more and sign the petition now.
The names of the women in this story have been changed for their safety and security. All their quotes were drawn from voiceover translations during a story by Matt Brown on ABC’s 7.30 program. You can watch the whole program below.